How the Male Champions of Change scored in their first report card

The Male Champions of Change have released their first report card, revealing how their organisations are positioned against their desire to boost the number of women in leadership positions in Australia.

“You can see it’s a mixed picture,” the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick tells Women’s Agenda.  “The trend is definitely positive and I’m delighted that we have got to this point where everyone has said they’ll stand behind their numbers – good or bad.”

And, their numbers are good and bad.

Eight companies led by a MCC  were marked “below” average for one field regarding women’s representation as compared to the relevant comparison group, whilst Citi, Rio Tinto and McKinsey all scored “below average” in two categories. Broadly the report card indicates how far from a 50:50 representation of women in leadership roles we are from.   

“There are some significant accomplishments and examples in the report.  There are also many opportunities for improvement,” Broderick says. “The Progress Report demonstrates their willingness to stand behind their numbers and that they are constantly working to identify what else can be done to drive improvement.”

The disclosure is significant.

“We could not have done it in the first few years of the MCC. I know we couldn’t,” Broderick says.  “People were more guarded around metrics but we have come to a point of view that making the numbers transparent is absolutely critical to making progress.”

The Progress Report shows the extent to which these organisations are achieving equality for women using performance benchmarks from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. 

“Corporate Australia is making progress on increasing the number of women in leadership positions, but it is at a slower pace than the Male Champions would like. That includes within the company I lead, ASX,” the ASX CEO Elmer Funke Kupper says. “The main challenge lies in the ranks of senior middle management. That is where we most need an improvement both in female representation and, fundamentally, in culture.”

Telstra’s outgoing CEO David Thodey agrees.

“Gender equality is an issue that continues to challenge each of us deeply, but I am encouraged and inspired that so many good people, both men and women, are committed to creating real change,” Thodey says.  “None of this is easy, creating gender equality is a complex issue, but I’m convinced the transformative change we are looking and working for is underway.”

Broderick says it is clear transformative change is much more likely when leaders are involved.

“Where the Male Champion of Change have personally intervened we’ve seen good progress and that’s a key learning,” Broderick says. “Where the leader of an organisation personally intervenes it has a huge impact.”

The MCC program was created in 2010 by Broderick and includes 25 of Australia’s male leaders – including the Chief of Army, Non-Executive Directors and CEOs of many of Australia’s largest companies, who are committed to achieving gender equality at work.

The program was borne out of Broderick’s desire for men to step up and lead on the issue. Improving gender balance at work is not “a women's issue” and without the involvement and commitment of men in power, Broderick believes efforts to address this will be compromised.

“The men are not champions because they are perfect role models, but rather because they are committed to taking action to increase the representation of women in leadership,” Broderick says.   “They all come from different starting points.  Some have come from a low base and, for a variety of reasons, some haven’t made as much progress as they would like. Until we hold them accountable for good and bad – we won’t see progress.”

“The most important thing we can to as champions of gender equality is to make these numbers transparent,” Broderick says. “It’s a benchmarking report – so the group intends to report in this manner each year.”

ANZ’s CEO Mike Smith is pleased with the group’s progress but admits the task ahead is significant.

“While we’re making progress, improving gender balance in our workforces is one that the business community as a whole needs to work harder to address,” Smith says.  “Through a shared commitment to disrupt the status quo, to share ideas and be transparent in reporting our progress everyone will benefit – our colleagues, workforces, customers and shareholders.”

The program and the men involved have not been immune from criticism, a fact Broderick doesn’t shy away from.

“The [Progress Report] tells us that these things take time to change but having said that my view is that we should be doing this yesterday,’ she says. “Give the strategy some time, it is innovative and it is a journey of learning. I ask people to hold judgment and watch as the strategy develops over the next 12 months. I am absolutely on their case – there are no freeloaders.”

Georgina Dent

Georgina Dent is a Contributing Editor at Women's Agenda. She began her working life as a lawyer before building a career in journalism as an editor, reporter and recognised advocate for women. Follow her on Twitter here and Facebook here.    

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